Forget the first two games of the season.
Penn football plays higher-caliber teams at the beginning of every year. It’s just how it works — win one, lose one, maybe lose both, but the first two games are never grand successes.
It’s the Ivy League that counts.
And the Quakers just picked up right where they left off from the end of last year’s championship-winning run.
The 37-24 scoreline at Dartmouth Friday night frankly, if anything, flatters the hosts. The game was over before halftime when the Red and Blue commanded a 28-3 lead over the Big Green. The team came flying out of the gates with energy and passion as the offense tore “artmouth” (their D was nonexistent) to shreds.
They didn’t even have good field position. The Quakers’ three opening possessions — all touchdown drives — lasted 66, 61 and 77 yards each.
Dartmouth only managed to put up 24 points because Penn coach Ray Priore put in the backups for virtually the entire fourth quarter. At 35-10, you couldn’t blame him, either, for trying to keep his starters safe and give his young blood some valuable experience.
For those who were starting to doubt senior quarterback Alek Torgersen’s ability to repeat last season’s success, they were promptly silenced when he threw a 28-yard pass for a touchdown and ran one in himself in the first 20 minutes of the game. By the time he was pulled early in the fourth quarter, he had thrown for 188 yards and rushed for another 52.
The run game, meanwhile, was similarly powerful. Junior running back Tre Solomon consistently found space up the gut and rushed for 107 yards before Priore pulled him out of the game as well.
On the other side of the ball, the defense came up with two interceptions — on two consecutive Dartmouth plays to boot. A fourth quarter safety topped off the scoring for the visitors. The hosts actually accrued more yardage on the day than the Quakers, but none of that mattered thanks to the defense’s play in the red zone.
If Torgersen can play like that for the next six Ivy League games, if Solomon’s ground attack can keep pounding away, and if the defense can stay consistently sharp, then there’s no telling what this team can do. Harvard notwithstanding, the other five conference contests should be blowouts. The Crimson will be the team’s toughest test, but last year’s surprise victory in Cambridge will give the Red and Blue confidence that even that game could be a win.
The title is theirs for the taking, basically. They must stay focused and replicate their form at Dartmouth in the coming weeks to give themselves a shot, but 2016 could be the year the Quakers return to the top of the Ivy League — without having to share.
Next week’s matchup against Central Connecticut State marks the team’s final non-conference game before its remaining Ancient Eight fixtures. If all of the stars can match their performance from Friday night, then a win is nothing less than expected.
The only valid fear is that the players could take their eyes off the ball. But Friday’s trouncing of Dartmouth should soothe those doubts — not only did the Quakers not turn the ball over, but they also hardly gave up a penalty all night long. The team played such a disciplined game that they at times looked robotic.
That’s what the team needs to be to win the Ivy title: ruthless and disciplined. And if their robotic performance at Dartmouth was anything to go by, they’re programmed for success in the weeks to come.
Play like that for seven more weeks, and the title is theirs.
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